In 1985 British Airways promoted me to the grand position of Sales Information Officer. What did that mean? I don’t think anyone knew. I wasn’t sure myself.
In fact, we were a small department, a colleague and I, who had been recruited to develop the BA Prestel site into an online catalogue. Prestel was the British Telecom videotext system (like Ceefax and Oracle) but more flexible and responsive. 95% of UK travel agents used it to book package tours. BA decided that, as agents already used the system, it should develop its own site to sell scheduled air travel services to agents.
And so we set about developing what grew into a 7,000-screen online brochure with full details of the product illustrated by heavily pixelated diagrams and illustrations. I spent months creating fares tables and editing fare rules for every fare BA sold for travel from the UK to its worldwide destinations. I think the fares section ran to 2,000 pages.
What seemed amazing at the time was to be able to upload pages from our PC network (an IBM AT PC with a 20MB hard disk linked to two twin-floppy IBM XT PCs) via modem down an ordinary telephone line. It seemed magical that one second the page was on my PC and the next it was accessible for anyone to view on Prestel.
It all seemed so exciting. People could even send us messages, which we printed off on a thermal printer.
But Prestel was not the way forward. Few in the airline saw its potential and both my colleague and I eventually moved to other jobs in BA.
We had been 10 years too early. Later, as the internet developed and web sites appeared, I realised that we had built a massive web site before anyone knew what it was.
I also learned a lot about writing for the small screen, on-screen attention spans and other tips that would stand me in good stead as the world moved online.
It may have been crude compared with today’s technology, but it was exciting for us as we made the rules up as we went along.
What is that? Where is it? When was it? Why was it there? What was the point? Who did it? Is it still there? Is that an inflatable? What gas was used to inflate it? Who chose the colours? Where did it come from? Will it be there again? Is that a mountain or a hill? Is it inland or on the coast? What are those brown patches on the hill/mountain?
That’s already 15 questions in just 72 words, so just think how many questions you could ask in a thousand words.
So does that mean words are more effective for communicating than pictures?
Of course not: both are useful in different ways. A picture or photograph can grab attention specifically because people want to find out more about a stunning image. For example, the BBC England website news page often has an ‘England’s Big Picture’ feature showing a partial image to tease viewers into opening it up to see if it is what they think it is. Stunning photography or images that tease can be useful in PR and marketing to attract people to read accompanying text.
In the same way, intriguing headlines can grab readers’ attention so that they read an accompanying article or text. News papers and websites make imaginative use of words in this way and, within reason, press releases and articles can do the same, as long as they do not mislead.
So what are more effective: words or pictures?
Neither. When applied with skill, one will not be more effective but will complement the other. If anything, a great photo will be let down by lousy writing, while a well-written article can be buried by poor illustration or layout.
When they work well together, the reader won’t take any notice of the composition of a photograph or style of writing but be totally engrossed in the message they convey.
If we live in the digital age, why do I recycle so much printed marketing material?
Just like the myth of the paperless office, printed words and graphics still play a powerful part in marketing and communications. While the digital world offers very many useful advantages, it complements, rather than supersedes, print.
Bearing this in mind, should we still print business cards and brochures or depend totally on our online presence? The answer is: it depends.
Some businesses can quite easily forego printed material and just refer to their web presence, while others are likely to find a web site almost irrelevant. I know of one business that posts leaflets through doors before following up with a personal visit: they are achieving a good response rate without any online presence whatsoever. However, I believe that a web site would help them.
Personally, I get annoyed by printed catalogues I receive through the post, as I recycle these immediately without looking at them. I used to believe that these were a complete waste of money until recently I began leafing through a catalogue just as it was about to hit the recycling pile and spotted a very good offer for a product that I needed. I ordered the product and enjoyed a hefty discount, which I wouldn’t have been aware of if I hadn’t received the catalogue. So it did work for this supplier.
I think the best course is to review your material regularly and consider what your target audience wants. Do they want to find information and interact through a web site or do they want hard copy to read at their leisure? And what responses do you receive from online and printed materials? The answers will help you to decide whether to produce one or the other or both.
Print is still useful and should not be dismissed without serious consideration, even though digital media can often offer speed and cost advantages.
After our last blog, how are you measuring your success?
z2zine tomorrow: the difference a single letter can make
We seem to be obsessed with numbers and targets, but what actual use are these? And do we really understand them?
With so much effort being put into communications, it’s a sound idea to measure what they actually achieve. Just taking internet activity, there are many statistics that you can monitor, from web site visitor numbers to page views, click-throughs and bounce rates (where a visitor leaves a web page without exploring further), but what do they mean?
For any business that wants to sell or promote itself over the internet, figures are useful. Sites that sell products online can measure success directly through sales figures and profit generated, but brochure sites aiming to attract customers to call or email are not so easy to measure.
The number of visitors or page views alone are not that useful if those visits are not from your target market. Thousands of visits are pointless if nobody ever responds, whereas low numbers of enquiries leading to large amounts of business are valuable.
So we have to be careful when we analyse numbers because they don’t always reveal the quality of performance. Delving deeper to find out if we are attracting our target audience, monitoring how many web visits convert into actual enquiries and calculating the value of business obtained from web site responses give us a real indication of success.
If we do this with all our communications, we’ll have a better idea of how well they are performing.
After our last blog, do you need to find suitable providers?
. . . for information, for a phone number, for an email address, for details of how to buy from a web site. Trouble is, it’s not just a minute. If I add up all the minutes I spend looking for information that should be obvious, it’ll probably total hours or days.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that some web sites are built like a maze, as presenting information is not formally taught to everyone. Does that matter? It does when a potential customer abandons your web site and visits a competitor in search of what they could not find. Sometimes details as simple as a phone number or email address are buried away or FAQ pages give no real help.
I’m quite a patient person, but there is a limit to how much time I will spend looking for the information I need. It also makes me question the professionalism of the business behind a web site. Do they really know what they’re doing? Maybe I should try someone else.
Just presenting basic information where it can be found easily can make a big difference to the success of a web site. Believe me, it’ll keep me there and could even persuade me to buy.
When we go into a greengrocer’s shop (or a supermarket) and see tired, dried-up fruit and vegetables, we usually pass by and go in search of a store with fresh produce. Well, if your web sites, blogs or other forms of online presence serve as shop windows for your business, it’s important to make sure they’re as freshly dressed as any food shop.
That’s not to say it’s always easy when you’ve got a million other things to do, but it’s good practice to remove or alter out-of-date information or offers and to correct anything that is wrong, such as prices.
The more we change our ‘shop windows’, the more passers-by are likely to take notice, not to mention search engines and the non-human agents at work on the internet.
It needn’t take long and is more a discipline than anything else to note down everywhere you have a presence – not just your own site and blogs, but profiles and other information on networking and other sites.
And just to prove that we’re practising what we preach, that’s what we’re doing at the moment.
It’s all right, we’re not in a huff, but are asking a serious question: why communicate?
Just like any other business activity, the purpose is to achieve an objective.
At the moment, we’re considering the business objectives of a number of clients. How does a new travel company reach a mass audience in its area on a regular basis without bankrupting itself on adverts? How does an established manufacturer strengthen its position when newcomers claim to offer a fresher, more innovative and responsive service? How does an IT company market a product that is so easy-to-use and effective that many target users just can’t believe how it answers all their dreams?
It’s not just a case of writing down what each business does, how committed their people are and what great service they give, but about trying to think like each of their target audiences, what they need and what will make them respond.
And doing it thoroughly takes time: thinking through the issues; considering readers’ potential objections; identifying what will attract their interest; developing the drivers that will lead them to take the desired action.
The result we aim for is interesting, lively copy that grabs readers’ attention and steers them towards actions that will achieve each client’s specific business objectives.
As well as aiming to write well, we work to understand our clients as businesses and what they aim to achieve.
And that is why and how we know the point of any communication we produce for our clients.
Although we seem to be surrounded by bad economic news, life has to go on. With reports of job cuts, marketing and advertising cuts, and sales slowing down, it’s easy to panic.
It is wise to control expenditure, but at the same time businesses have to continue marketing and selling if they are to survive, let alone thrive.
There is so much that any business can do. Much of it is common sense and costs little:
• Keep your web site and marketing material up-to-date.
• Identify products and services that are more likely to be required by customers: what do you provide that they cannot do without?
• Focus on any of these areas that are most profitable to you.
• Package products and services so that they are more attractive in a difficult market.
• Keep in contact with existing customers to retain them and/or increase your sales.
• Explore other ways of applying your products, services and expertise. It could be just a case of adding new pages to your web site, a public relations campaign or approaching customers in different sectors.
Whatever happens, your business needs to remain visible and able to reach any customers looking to purchase.
Zarywacz is very pleased to launch the brand new official web site of Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration at www.ilfvc.org.uk.
Ilfracombe is a charming seaside town in North Devon which grew in popularity as a holiday resort in the Victorian era.
To celebrate this, Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration stages a week-long programme of Victorian-themed events every year. During the week, townspeople and visitors dress in Victorian costume, as you will see from the photographs on the site.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the celebration and the week of 9th to 17th June 2007 offers a packed programme of events and activities for everyone.
Full details of events will be published as they are confirmed.
Zarywacz is very pleased to be associated with Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration.